REMEMBERING UNCOLORED MARGARINE
By Lona Lewis & Evelyn Birkby
How many of you remember when margarine
was sold uncolored? White margarine was on the market
in the 1920s when I was young. It looked like lard
but inside the package was a packet of yellow food
coloring. The cook needed to soften the margarine
and then mix the color into it to make it appetizing
and look like butter.
Margarine is modified and whipped vegetable
oil. In the early years, using margarine was directly
related to whether you had access to cream to make
butter. Ask a person who grew up on the farm and you
will hear they ate butter because "we had cows
and could make it."
During the Great Depression families
on tight budgets used the spread to save money. Mashing
the color into the spread was a job often assigned
to children. Many people today remember kneading that
white lard-like block back and forth until the entire
pound of margarine was colored.
Sherry Perkins said she remembered the
blocks of colorless margarine and the little packets
of orange food coloring. She and her siblings made
a game of tossing the package back and forth as they
kneaded in the color. One time when they threw it
the catcher failed to grab the bag and it fell and
broke, splattering the contents on the floor. "It
was not our happiest childhood moment", she laughed.
Margarine has been manufactured in the US since 1881.
It is a naturally chalky white and unappetizing looking
substance. The dairy and butter providers had lobbied
to keep colored margarine off the shelves of grocers
through a 10% tax if it was colored to look like butter.
This ban was lifted in 1950 and margarine could for
the first time be sold colored like butter.
I asked my food guru Pam Nenneman if she remembered
uncolored margarine and she said "Yes indeed.
It was considered one molecule removed from plastic."
"Did you know," Pam continued,
"Flies won't land on margarine. You put a dish
with some butter and a dish with some margarine out
where there are flies and they will land on the butter
but not on the margarine. Does that tell us anything?"
When margarine was first sold the issue
was having access to a butter-like substance. Today,
the issue is which is healthier to eat. Go on the
internet and you will find 100s of entries on butter
versus margarine. Margarine is heralded as having
no Trans fats, saturated fats or cholesterol. So the
white chalky substance that got no respect is now
a health food. There have been enough chemicals added
to make it taste as good as butter. Today margarine
has become almost as popular as butter and is now
used for many food items: baking, sauces, and as a
spread. A true story of how an ugly duckling became
a beautiful swan